While the core of the Ph.D. program is the dissertation, the Doctor of Philosophy degree formally requires a minimum of 90 credit hours. CPAP Ph.D. students take a series of Foundation courses in five Core Areas: context of public administration, organization, policy, management, and ethics; and five advanced courses we call Advanced Topics courses and Capstone Seminars. At least six credit hours must be completed or transferred in at the Foundation level in each core area except Ethics, which requires three credits. Ph.D. students also participate in the Doctoral Mentoring Program (DMP) in or . In the addition to course work and DMP sessions, several PhD milestones need to be completed.

Foundation Courses (18 hours)

  • PAPA 6014: Public Administration Context and Theory
  • PAPA 6114: Complex Organizations
  • PAPA 6214: Public Policy Processes and Analysis
  • PAPA 6224: Policy Design and Evaluation of Public Policies
  • PAPA 6344: Leadership and Management Processes in Public Administration
  • PAPA 6414: Normative Foundations of Public Administration

Advanced Courses (15 hours)

  • Advanced Topics (9 hours)
  • PAPA 6924 Capstone A (3 hours)
  • PAPA 6934 Capstone B (3 hours)

Measurement and Analysis (6 hours)

  • PAPA 6514: Public Administration & Policy Inquiry
  • Intermediate/Advanced Statistics or other quantitative or qualitative skills
  • Please Note: Completion of an introductory statistics is required to enroll in PAPA 6514

Elective Courses (9 hours)

  • Students may transfer appropriate graduate coursework from other universities, or take additional Virginia Tech coursework

Research Concentration (12 hours)

  • 9 credit hours coursework related to the development of the dissertation prospectus, which may include Independent Study (PAPA 5974), Internship and/or Field Studies
  • PAPA 5964: Concentration Lecture

Qualifying Examination

  • Complete qualifying exams in three of the five core areas of Complex Organizations, Ethics, Public Management, Theory and Context of Public Administration, and Public Policy.

Dissertation Hours

  • 30 hours of PAPA 7994; 3 hours of which are dedicated to the Doctoral Mentoring Program in Alexandria or Blacksburg.

See the Policy Guide for additional information about CPAP’s Ph.D. Program in Alexandria and Blacksburg.

The Ph.D. program consists of three tightly integrated components, each designed to provide a foundation for, and transition to the next:

  • Introductory and advanced coursework consisting of 48 credits, culminating in the qualifying exams,
  • 12 credits focused on the student’s concentration, culminating in the concentration lecture and the transition to the prospectus defense, and
  • 30 credits of dissertation and research, culminating in the defense of the dissertation.
Advisor Assignment: upon admission to the Ph.D. program, each student is assigned an advisor to provide counsel on the selection and timing of coursework as well as to help the student develop a clear sense of intellectual direction and a framework for thinking about his or her dissertation project. Students may change advisors at any time with the approval of the CPAP Chair and the consent of the new advisor.

Plan of Study: within the first semester of study new students complete a plan of study which identifies coursework from previous graduate work that may be transferred into the Ph.D. plan of study, and establishes the timing for completing additional CPAP course work. The student should contact his or her advisor to arrange a plan of study meeting, consisting of the advisor, two additional members of the faculty, and the student. Students should print the plan of study form and bring a copy to the program of study meeting. In some instances, the plan of study advising may be completed in conjunction with orientation or with a doctoral mentoring program session.

Doctoral Mentoring Program (DMP): Each student in the Ph.D. program must attend a total of 15 doctoral mentoring program sessions before defending his or her dissertation. The mentoring program is central to the community of scholarship at CPAP. Three DMP sessions are scheduled each semester, for a total of six each year. Students can earn DMP credits for attending additional lectures, round tables, and sessions identified as appropriate for DMP credit but students must attend at least 10 of the regularly scheduled DMP sessions, and no more than five alternative sessions. Students are encouraged to attend the DMP throughout their studies, even after reaching 15 sessions.

Qualifying Examination: This exam is an important transition point in the program where students more actively and critically direct their scholarly interests. It is taken only when all course work (with the exception of the capstone seminars and the 12 hours of Research Concentration), has been completed. In order to take the examination, a student must submit the official form to the graduate school at least one month prior to the exam, and have a Plan of Study approved by his or her committees and committee chairs and the Graduate School, and he or she may not have any grades of “incomplete” in Foundation or Advanced Topics courses.

This examination tests the substantive knowledge, analytical ability, intellectual power, and writing and speaking skills necessary for completing the Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs. Students passing the exam are considered to be qualified to go on to the prospectus stage of their doctoral work. The Virginia Tech Honor Code is in effect for all aspects of this examination. The exam is offered every Fall semester, usually in early September, and every Spring semester usually in early February.

The exam is offered in two parts: a written portion consisting of three essays in the three fields of study selected by the student and an oral exam two weeks later before the examination committee that consists of questions drawing primarily upon the written essays completed by the student.

Students planning to take the exams must respond to the preliminary inquiry from Laura French or Irene Jung distributed six months prior to a fall or spring exam, to confirm participation in the next scheduled exam and the fields of study they have selected for the exam.

Annual Student Evaluations: An evaluation of doctoral students in the CPAP Ph.D. program is conducted at the end of the Spring semester of each academic year. The purpose of the evaluation is to assure that each student is making adequate progress toward the program milestones. This evaluation involves the review of courses taken, grades earned, progress toward milestones, and professional accomplishments. The basis of this review is an annual evaluation form that is completed by each student. Special attention is given to course incompletes and other potential obstacles to adequate progress.

Students must complete three concentration courses and conduct a concentration lecture for a total of 12 credits.

Coursework: Students will complete three classes or independent studies that contribute directly to their dissertation research. Concentrations may focus on areas of student or faculty expertise leading to a dissertation such as non-profit management, public and regime values, public finance, strategy, homeland security, or many other areas. In consultation with an advisor students choose to complete either independent studies that are designed to hone and further their dissertation interests, courses that contribute directly to a student’s research interests, or a combination of the two. If a student chooses to complete an independent study, he or she must complete the independent study form in consultation with the faculty member who has agreed to supervise the Independent Study. These forms are filed with the Administrative Assistant for the program.

Selecting a dissertation advisor and Committee: Through completion of the concentration coursework, students are transitioning to their advisors for their dissertations. Students often work with different faculty during their research concentration courses or independent studies to consider selection of their dissertation committee chairs and members of the committees. The first step in this process is to ask a member of the Center’s core faculty to chair this committee. The faculty member who agrees to chair the dissertation committee will then become the student’s advisor. The next step is to constitute the Dissertation Committee, which consists of at least four members including the chair. Three members including the chair must be core CPAP faculty members. The fourth member can be a CPAP faculty member, affiliated faculty, a faculty member from another department in VT, or someone outside of VT with higher education credentials who brings particular expertise to the committee.

Concentration Lecture: When a student has completed nine credits of concentration work, he or she will present a concentration lecture to the faculty and peers. The lecture is an opportunity to share what the student has learned, and to test out a format and approach for the student’s dissertation prospectus.

Students must register for PAPA 7964 Concentration Lecture Section for the semester they plan to deliver their lecture. In addition, students are responsible for coordinating with their committee members to schedule the lecture, and communicating the day and time to Laura French in Blacksburg or Irene Jung in Alexandria for distribution on the student and faculty listservs. The announcement should be at least a full two weeks in advance of the lecture.

Preliminary Exam (The Prospectus and Prospectus Defense): After establishing the committee of a minimum of four members, the student writes the Dissertation Prospectus under the guidance of his or her committee chair. This document essentially is a research design setting forth the program of research that the student proposes to follow in writing his or her dissertation. The prospectus should address:

  • the topic or question to be assayed in the planned dissertation
  • the significance of the proposed research
  • the present state of knowledge on the topic or question
  • the sources that will shape the work,
  • the research strategy and/or methodology to be employed
  • an outline of proposed chapters
  • and a timeline for completing the work.

The student preparing to defend his or her prospectus must complete the Request to Admit Candidate to Preliminary Examinationform and have it approved by the committee and committee chair and the Graduate School. When the prospectus has been successfully defended, the student will proceed to write the dissertation itself.

Final Exam (The Dissertation Defense): Defense of the dissertation is the final requirement. No student may advance to the Dissertation Defense until all other requirements have been completed successfully and until the chair and at least two out of three or three out of four or five other members of the dissertation committee agree that the dissertation is ready to be defended. The dissertation defense focuses on the dissertation research project but is not limited to it. The candidate is expected to answer questions about the theoretical, methodological, and practical implications of the dissertation and its contribution to new knowledge in the field.

The dissertation defense may be scheduled no sooner than six weeks after a draft, approved by the chair, has been distributed to the members of the committee. The students must complete the Request to Admit Candidate to Final Exam form (under Academics/Forms) and have it approved by his or her advisory committee and committee chair and the Graduate School. All members of the Dissertation Committee must be present for the defense.

Students should contact the Administrative Assistant in their location to complete additional paperwork and insure that everything is in place for the defense and the submission of the dissertation.